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Old is gold
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-09 13:11

Old is gold
The modernistic lobby of Hotel Kunlun incorporates the ancient elements of feng shui. [File photos]

One of the signs that China had broken free of its self-wrought cocoon and opened its doors to the outside world was the emergence of upscale hotels in the 1980s, which often shaped its urban skylines. These hotels were not just buildings that offered accommodation, but psychological landmarks that tantalized with a lifestyle many aspired to reach.

Old is goldNowadays it is difficult for a hotel to occupy that kind of status in the public consciousness. But there are still some hotels, whose physical structures may be submerged in the sprouting Beijing landscape yet whose names still carry a special cachet. Hotel Kunlun is one of these landmarks.

The Kunlun Mountain Range, on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, runs 2,500 km and rises 5,500-6,000 m above sea level. The water there is so pristine and sacred that a mythological lake named Yaochi was invented in folklore for gods and goddesses.

A floor-to-ceiling tapestry depicting the mountain used to hang in the Hotel Kunlun lobby. The latest renovation has replaced the realistic scenery with an abstract rendering, with layers and layers of materials that resemble gold lame. It could be Kunlun Mountain in the glow of sunset.

The modernistic lobby incorporates the ancient elements of feng shui. Sacred water still flows throughout the building, in the waterfall that partially shelters the entrance, in the droplets of crystals that adorn the lobby, in the Shanghai Flavor Restaurant that seeps with moisture on the paths, in the Keikaku Japanese Restaurant where water is symbolized by meandering lines in the sand, and of course in the central pool. The hotel sits next to the Liangma River, so wealth-signifying water is a natural fixture as well.

Old is goldWater drops are round. Water goes around. Round can denote reunion or happiness in Chinese culture. The driveway and the lobby have two linked circles, each 28 m in diameter, forming the numeral 8, again an auspicious sign in China - of prosperity. The Italian marble that forms the two circles contains endless smaller circles the size of coins, but none identical. No wonder the place is a favorite with the business crowd.

But you don't have to be metaphysical to enjoy this hotel. For your eyes, ears and taste buds, the nine restaurants and four lounges offer a dizzying array of aesthetic styles and top-of-the-line cuisines.

The Japanese restaurant has such elaborate hand-carved architecture, it feels like you've been airlifted into an ancient Hokkaido village. The Shanghai restaurant, on the other hand, recalls a small town in southern China, with bridges and pebble paths. It's not just dining, but reliving the elegant life of the golden age.

The views from these eateries vary with every step. It resembles a sequence of movie sets with highly wrought details. If you want to take in the panorama of the city, the choice is the Summit Club Restaurant on the 29th floor, where you can savor superb Chinese, Western, Japanese and Indian food while guessing which landmark buildings happen to glide into your view. Yes, it revolves, and on a clear late afternoon the two-hour full-circle spin presents not just a spectacular city, but a bright day morphing into a glittering night.

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Speaking of movie sets, Hotel Kunlun has often been the backdrop for movies and television series. The best known is Five-Star Hotel, starring newcomer Zhang Junning. Before he played a butler in the drama, the Chinese Adonis actually assumed the job of a butler at Kunlun for two months. Nobody knew he was preparing for a role.

The aura of Hotel Kunlun also exudes from board chairman Lu Haiyan. Known by his penname Hai Yan, he is China's best-selling author and has the Midas touch of turning upcoming actors into bona fide stars. But in his day job, he is the fountainhead of many great ideas that shaped the look and feel of this Chinese gem of a hotel.

Complementing the around-the-world-in-nine-restaurants experience is the best thing about Hotel Kunlun - its service. Simply put, it's Chinese hospitality with international standards. Just like the dcor, the Chinese element is not really in the facade, but in the subtle attentiveness and delicate courtesy that brush you like a soft wind in summer. You may first feel you're in any upscale hotel, but on closer examination everything is as Zen as the mystical Kunlun Mountain.

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